What It Takes

What It Takes

United States

What It Takes is a podcast featuring intimate, revealing conversations with towering figures in almost every field: music, science, sports, politics, film, technology, literature, the military and social justice. These rare interviews have been recorded over the past 25 years by The Academy of Achievement. They offer the life stories and reflections of people who have had a huge impact on the world, and insights you can apply to your own life.


Nora Ephron: Unstoppable Wit  

Nora Ephron knew just how to make people laugh and cry and kvell. But mostly laugh. She wrote some of greatest romantic comedies of all time, including "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle". She was a successful director and producer too, in an industry not very hospitable to women. In this episode, Ephron shares the most important lesson she learned from her mother: that all pain is fodder for a good story. She explains why becoming a journalist was the best thing she ever did. And she tells stories from her later career in Hollywood, including the one about how the famous faked-orgasm scene in "When Harry Met Sally" came about.

Bill Russell: Giant of a Man  

The most astonishing winning streak in the history of sports, belonged to the Boston Celtics. They won eleven championships between 1957 and 1969, eight of those in a row. And the player at the center of those wins - was Bill Russell. He changed the game of basketball, with his incredible speed, and his ability to block shots as no player had done before. When he took over as coach of the Celtics (while still playing on the team), he became the first African-American coach of any major sport in the U.S. In this episode, Russell talks about his life in basketball, and he describes how he was shaped by the racism he confronted, on and off the court.

Sonia Sotomayor: Power of Words  

Justice Sonia Sotomayor tells the extraordinary story of her voyage from the most dangerous neighborhood in the United States, to the highest court in the land -- a voyage fueled by the power of words. In a wide-ranging conversation with NPR's Nina Totenberg, recorded at the Supreme Court in 2016, Sotomayor shares her earliest memories of life in the tenements of the South Bronx: her diagnosis with diabetes, her trips to the market with her beloved grandmother, her father's death, and her love affair with books. She also talks about how she learned to learn, and to rely on the wisdom of friends and colleagues -- skills that carried her through Princeton, Yale, her prestigious legal career, and one beautiful throw from the pitcher's mound.

Sally Field: Embracing Fear  

Sally Field is one of the best actresses in America... on film, on television and on stage. She's won Emmy Awards and Academy Awards, and has had starring roles on Broadway. But early in her career, she was boxed in by her own success on tv, playing flighty girls like Gidget and The Flying Nun, and she couldn't find a way out. But Sally Field would not accept that destiny. She trained with the best acting teacher, Lee Strasberg, and transformed herself. It took a while for Hollywood to catch up with her, but eventually got the kind of roles and recognition she deserved -- for films like "Norma Rae," "Places in the Heart," "Steel Magnolias," "Forrest Gump" and many others. In this episode you'll get to know just how funny and charming and profound Sally Field is, as she talks candidly about her process of reinvention, and her discovery that fear is an essential path to change.

Reid Hoffman: Silicon Valley Grandmaster  

LinkedIn changed the way people navigate the world of work. It's hard to even remember the days (though not that long ago) when jobseekers opened the back of a newspaper to scan the help wanted ads. Well, LinkedIn was the brainchild of Reid Hoffman, one of the Silicon Valley visionaries who recognized, back in the 1990's, the internet's potential for a new kind of social and professional networking. In this episode he talks about how his background in philosophy led him to tech entrepreneurship. And he provides some fascinating stories about the early days of the online revolution.

August Wilson and Lloyd Richards: The Voice of Genius  

Meet two giants of the American theater: playwright August Wilson and director Lloyd Richards. Together they brought many award-winning plays to Broadway, including "Fences," "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," and "The Piano Lesson." August Wilson, who wrote ten plays (together known as the Century Cycle), started out as a poet. When he turned to writing plays, intent on telling the stories of African-Americans on stage, it was Lloyd Richards who recognized his talent and helped him shape it. Richards was already an icon in the theater world. He had begun his career a generation before, aspiring to be an actor at a time when there were almost no roles for African-Americans. His big break came when Sidney Poitier asked him to direct a new play called "A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry. In this episode you'll hear Lloyd Richards tell the story behind that ground-breaking production. You'll also hear both August Wilson and Lloyd Richards describe how they came to meet and have one of the most successful artistic collaborations in history.

Chuck Jones: The Fine Art of Laughter  

Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Pepé Le Pew were all brought to life in the hands of Chuck Jones. If there's a Loony Tunes or a Merrie Melodies cartoon that you carry in your heart, Jones was probably behind it. (What's Opera Doc, anyone?) He was artist, animator and director of 300 cartoons, in a career that spanned from the 1930's to the 1990's. Among the many awards he received was an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. In this episode he talks about the influence of Mark Twain, the origin of Daffy's voice, and the childhood pet cat that showed him the absurd humor of animals.

Dr. Jane Goodall: A Dedicated Pursuit  

As a girl in England, Jane Goodall dreamed of traveling to Africa to study animals in the wild. In 1960, that dream brought her to Tanzania, to observe the wild chimpanzees at Gombe Stream Park. As she describes in this episode, other scientists did not believe that a young woman could survive alone in the bush, but Jane Goodall did more than survive. Her work revolutionized the field of primatology. She was the first to document chimpanzees making and using tools, an activity that had been thought exclusively humans. Over the years she also witnessed cooperative hunting and altruism, but also brutality and even warfare among chimps. Her work, the longest continuous field study of any living creature, has given us deep insights into the evolution of our own species. Since the 1980's, she has devoted herself single-mindedly to educating the public worldwide about the connections between animal welfare, the environment, and human progress.

Maya Angelou, Part 2: In the Spirit of Martin  

Maya Angelou was a civil rights activist and a friend of Martin Luther King Jr., years before she became known throughout the world for her memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." In this, the second our two Maya Angelou podcasts, she offers her personal reflections of Dr. King as a poet and as a man with with great humility (and humor). She talks about the state of the African-American community decades later, and the importance of using language to uplift (describing an encounter she had with Tupac Shakur to make her point). And in her powerful, unique voice, she reminds us of the eternal relevance of Dr. King's wisdom.

Maya Angelou: Righteousness and Love  

Maya Angelou took the harshest experiences in her life and turned them into words of triumph, justice and hope. Her memoirs and her poems told of her survival, and uplifted people around the world. Her first book, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," is a classic of American literature. Her voice and the rhythm of her speech were absolutely unique. In this episode you'll hear that iconic voice, in interviews, speeches and conversations, and be reminded why she was one of the most inspiring figures of the past century.

Albie Sachs: Freedom Fighter  

Albie Sachs awoke one day in 1988 in a Mozambican hospital, with no remembrance of the car bomb that had maimed his body. But it hadn't broken his will to remain in the struggle to end Apartheid in South Africa. This episode is drawn from Sachs's 3-hour conversation with the Academy of Achievement. He tells stories, with love and with humor, about joining the movement as a young white teenager in the 1950's, about his detentions in solitary confinement, about helping to write his nation's new constitution, and about becoming one of the first justices on The Constitutional Court of South Africa.

Thomas Keller: Recipe for Success  

When Thomas Keller was a dishwasher, he learned all the basic lessons he'd need to become one of America's greatest chefs and restaurateurs. Keller owns The French Laundry and Per Se, two of the only restaurants in America to carry three Michelin stars. Along the way he learned other important lessons, of course, and each one left him a great story to tell. As we enter this food-frenzy of a holiday season, take a listen to Thomas Keller's bumpy and glorious ride to the pinnacle of his profession.

Doris Kearns Goodwin: Presidential Ambitions  

When Doris Kearns Goodwin was six year old, she used to carefully document the Brooklyn Dodgers' games. And that, she says, eventually led her to the career she now has, as one of America's favorite historians and political commentators. Goodwin's books are so engaging, because they focus on the very human side of her subjects: Lincoln, Kennedy, Johnson, Taft and Roosevelt (Franklin, Eleanor AND Teddy). In this episode, she talks about her unusual approach. She also tells amazing stories about the extraordinary relationship she had with LBJ, which began when she was a White House fellow in her early 20's and led to her first book. And, she describes a night unlike any other, sleeping in the bedroom where Winston Churchill slept as a guest in FDR's White House.

Frank O. Gehry: Building the Inspiring Space  

If you can name one living architect, it's probably Frank Gehry. Gehry has designed some of the world's most recognizable and beloved buildings... buildings that are surprising and playful, like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. In this episode, Gehry talks about what compelled him to put the art back in architecture. He explains his obsession with fish and motion and curvilinear forms. And he remembers the professor who told him he'd never make it in architecture.

John Irving: A Literary Life  

One of America's greatest living novelists begins every book by writing the the last sentence first. In this episode, John Irving, author of The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and The Cider House Rules, explains why. And he might just convince you that his uncommon approach is the only one that makes sense! Irving also opens up about his early life, and reveals how his mysteriously absent father, his learning disability, and his passion for wrestling all contributed to his success as a writer. Whether you've read every John Irving novel or none, this is a fascinating story about the writing process, and about an author some critics have called the Charles Dickens of our time.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Justice For All  

In this episode, you'll hear Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg tell the very personal story of her lifelong pursuit of justice and equality for women. Her tale includes trips to the library with her mother, a sixty year romance with Marty Ginsburg, her struggles to become a lawyer in a field inhospitable to women, her surprising friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia, and even her days as an aspiring baton twirler! The interview was conducted by NPR's Nina Totenberg, and explores some of the most important cases Ginsburg handled - as a lawyer and as a Justice - that helped transform the legal landscape for women (and men) in America.

Wynton Marsalis: Philosopher King of Jazz  

Wynton Marsalis has been THE preeminent name in jazz for the past 30 years. The Louisiana-born trumpeter has made it his life's work to bring jazz back from the brink of neglect, to its rightful place - as one of the pillars of American culture, history & art. He's just as accomplished as a classical musician, a composer and an educator. In this episode you'll hear Marsalis as a young man, still in his 20's, full of the fire and the talent that has carried him throughout his career.

Steven Rosenberg: Finding a Cure for Cancer  

One of the greatest revolutions in the treatment of cancer is underway. It's called immunotherapy, and the revolutionary behind it is Dr. Steven Rosenberg. Dr. Rosenberg has been the Chief of Surgery at the National Institute of Cancer for over four decades. During all that time he has doggedly pursued this radical idea -- that a patient's immune system could be sparked or retrained to attack cancer cells. It's an idea that was dismissed by most of the medical establishment, until patients with terminal melanoma began to survive, cancer-free, under Dr. Rosenberg's care. Now immunotherapy is one of hottest areas of medical research around the world. In this episode you'll hear the story of Dr. Rosenberg's almost super-human determination, and you'll hear from one of his patients.

Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush: The Freedom to Lead  

In the midst of this political season… here’s a chance to hear two former U.S. Presidents hold forth on their lives in public service. Bill Clinton spoke to hundreds of graduate students from 50 nations at the 44th annual International Achievement Summit in Chicago. George H.W. Bush did the same, 9 years earlier at the Academy of Achievement's program in 1995 at Colonial Williamsburg. In this episode we present those inspiring and entertaining talks, unedited and unfettered.

Sir Roger Bannister: The Mile of the Century  

When Englishman Roger Bannister was studying medicine at Oxford in the 1940's, he began to have great success as a member of the track team. He knew enough about physiology to question a long-held belief: that humans were simply not built to run a mile in less than four minutes. He was determined to shatter that myth, and he did. In this episode, Bannister describes how he developed his own unique approach to training, one that allowed him to very gradually improve speed, while leaving time for his studies in neuroscience. After eight years, he was ready. At a meet held in May of 1954, he stunned the world, running a mile in 3:59.4. It is considered one of the greatest athletic achievements of all time, alongside Sir Edmund Hillary's ascent of Mt. Everest.

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